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West African troops get three-month Gambia extension

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West African troops have had their mandate extended for three more months in The Gambia, as President Adama Barrow carries out large-scale reforms of the army and intelligence services.

The troops are currently deployed as part of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) mission in The Gambia, which “had its mandate extended by three months subject to renewal,” a statement released late Wednesday by Barrow’s office said.

ECOWAS launched the deployment on January 19, shortly after Barrow took the oath of office in The Gambia’s embassy in Dakar, the capital of neighbouring Senegal.

Soldiers from The Gambia and ECOWAS soldiers patrol in front of the Second Infantry Battalion Camp in Farafenni, Gambia on January 22, 2017

Soldiers from The Gambia and ECOWAS soldiers patrol in front of the Second Infantry Battalion Camp in Farafenni, Gambia on January 22, 2017 ©SEYLLOU (AFP)

It then suspended military action to give a chance for final diplomatic efforts to convince longstanding hardline ruler Yahya Jammeh to step down following his defeat to Barrow in December elections.

Jammeh agreed to leave for exile on January 21 following the negotiations with west African leaders.

The ECOWAS extension comes despite what Senegalese General Francois Ndiaye had said would be “a progressive reduction” in numbers at the end of January, from a peak of 4,000 troops at the height of the crisis.

Sections of the security services were under Jammeh’s personal control and are responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture and arbitrary detention, rights groups say, including the notorious secret police of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA).

Explaining how the NIA would be reformed, the same statement from Barrow’s office said its name would change and its functions would be limited to “intelligence gathering, analysis and advice to the relevant arms of government responsible for internal and external security.”

The NIA “has not limited itself to work within its mandate but has abused the office and instilled fear amongst citizens,” the statement added.

Barrow took refuge in Senegal on January 15, fearing for his safety after Jammeh reversed his acceptance of the election result and sought for six weeks to cling to power.

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